After years of denying co-ownership of a gambling site that took bets from minors from 2015 to 2017, FaZe Clan co-owner Richard "Banks" Bengston came clean Sunday.
Fans of Counter-Strike as an esport might think that's old news. But after years of denying any ties to CSGOWild -- one of the many Counter-Strike skin gambling sites that game developer Valve took legal action against in late 2016 and early 2017 -- Banks appeared on the BAD NWZ podcast Sunday, candidly talking about how he and a set of friends learned how to "finesse the internet" to net about $200,000 per day.
Not only did Banks profit significantly from the venture, but he also admitted that he did it to help FaZe pay a $1 million acquisition fee for their professional Counter-Strike team, which they acquired from G2 Esports in early 2016.
The high-profile social media personality bragged about the business but didn't accept responsibility that the site hurt others. To him, it was just a way to make money and achieve his financial aspirations.
Banks said he and his crew paid off a government official in Antigua, a Caribbean island known for being a gambling haven, to obtain an operating license, then purchased an estate mansion in that country. Some of those revelations were reported by YouTuber HonorTheCall in mid-2016, but Banks and fellow FaZe co-owner Nordan "Rain" Shat, who was also implicated, denied being owners in the business.
"People started creating these gambling sites where you can gamble with these skins, and it's kind of a, like, gray area because it's a skin in a game, and there's no actual, real-life value to it -- like, the government puts absolutely no value to it," Banks said. "We came up with this idea with these kids. I came up with this idea for a different way to do it. We branded it the right way.
"My motivation for doing it was at the time, we weren't making enough money to buy a CS:GO team. All in, the venture was going to cost $1 million, and we definitely didn't have anything close to that. So my brand, we gotta finesse it, and we gotta figure out how to buy this team now because in the next six months to a year, this team is going to be worth $4 or $5 million. We're not going to be able to get into this game, which, in our heads, we needed to get into this game."
In the podcast, Banks spoke with little remorse. He talked about wanting to meet young people -- such as two Canadian twins named Gage and Zach, with whom he founded CSGOWild -- and with whom he could learn how to turn internet businesses into millions of dollars. His current FaZe Clan roster includes several successful teenage influencers, including 14-year-old streamer Soleil "Ewok" Wheeler, 13-year-old content creator H1ghSky1 and 15-year-old Fortnite star Kyle "Mongraal" Jackson.
"There's kids, who are 16 years old, who know more about this s--- than we do," Banks said. "I want internet kids. I want young, internet kids. Sometimes these guys, executives, like our CEO, introduce us to people, this guy who is so-and-so and sat at a desk in London for the last 12 years, and he was the head of Monster for Europe or whatever. That s--- does not excite me anymore 'cause those people nine times out of 10 don't do s--- for us or make an impact.
"Introduce me to a kid who's 20 years old and figured out how to finesse some algorithm, crazy s---, started on Reddit and found out how to make $1 million for himself on his laptop."
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Banks talked about wanting to facilitate young people's ambition and push their skills forward, yet he openly admitted to running a website that drew flak from Valve and government officials alike for scamming minors out of millions of dollars, either from them or from their parents.
It's as if YouTube, Twitch or whatever platform isn't enough. That mansion, those cars, that Rolex -- none of it is enough. Banks and others wanted more and drew some of their profits from kids who didn't know what they were doing and later became addicted to gambling on skins. It's almost like we've forgotten the YouTubers and streamers who funded and ran these Counter-Strike skins gambling websites from 2015 to 2017. They've continued to have successful and wealthy lives -- and in some cases, they have pumped the world full of positive news releases about how great they are for giving back, even to children.
A few months ago, I had a PR representative repeatedly reach out about Tom "Syndicate" Cassell volunteering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I'm all for giving back to underprivileged or ill children, but not when it comes from someone who notably ran a website that took advantage of them financially. That's exactly what Syndicate did with CSGO Lotto.
I received flak a few months ago when I replied to longtime OpTic Gaming video editor and influencer Davis "Hitch" Edwards after he tweeted a picture of Trevor "TmarTn" Martin taking a dip in an exotic island pool. I pointed out that his lifestyle was likely boosted by all the money he made -- with Syndicate and Josh "JoshOG" Beaver -- off kids while running CSGO Lotto.
I'm not arguing that we take away people's livelihoods, but Syndicate and TMarTn got a slap on the wrist from the Federal Trade Commission in 2017, and it was mostly on the pretense of false advertising. (They didn't disclose their relationships with CSGO Lotto in videos promoting the website on which they won big-money skins, possibly by rigging the odds.) No action was taken against them for running a website that had zero age requirements and allowed anyone with a Valve account to log in and start gambling valuable skins.
There's a trend here. Most of these people don't come from Counter-Strike. I don't want to be a gatekeeper -- because I hate to see that happen somewhat frequently in the CS:GO community -- but TMarTn, Syndicate and Banks come from other games (Call of Duty, in their cases).
They used Counter-Strike as a vehicle to make millions in profits, yet because the government didn't come down on them very hard, we go about our lives as if nothing happened. They still make millions every year from YouTube partnerships and merchandise. Clearly, in Banks' case, he couldn't care less about the kids he hurt. In his opinion, it was just "finessing the internet."
There's a reason FaZe wasn't given the benefit of the doubt when Turner "Tfue" Tenney sued the team last summer, claiming it exploited his likeness after recruiting him as a young, up-and-coming streamer and encouraged underage use of alcohol. Banks, then, framed Tfue as his brother, who betrayed the circle of trust for fame, attention and financial gain. Yet that's exactly what Banks did with CSGOWild.
Esports businesses around the world want to be like FaZe, the cool merchandise and lifestyle brand that extends past esports teams competing and influencers creating. But at the top of FaZe sit people such as Banks, who, it seems, several times a year ends up in controversy for bad business ethics or speaking off-color. Banks has used his position at the top of this multimillion-dollar empire to push the envelope too far again and again.
Sitting by as these people make a fortune by exploiting others isn't enough for me. Putting your dog in the beginning of your apology video isn't, either. I don't expect any governmental body to react. They're clearly quite behind on virtual currency.
But I hope the audience does. Because at the end of the day, you're just another dollar sign to these people. And they'll do whatever they need, regardless of morals or ethics, to "finesse" you.